I had been wanting to visit Chatsworth House for years. When we decided to do a last minute road trip to the Peak District, I knew we needed to fit it in. Then I saw the price of admission. It was almost as much as we paid to visit Buckingham Palace. Is visiting Chatsworth House worth it?
We decided to splurge since it was our first getaway since March and I am glad we did. While I had read about the stately home and seen plenty of pictures, I was still surprised by how incredible Chatsworth House was to see in person.
Let me tell you more about our visit to the Chatsworth House so that you can decide if it’s right for you.
COVID-19 Notice: Chatsworth House is open but you must book timed tickets online in advance here. Without the tickets, you will also not be allowed to use the parking lot. They require that you wash your hands before entering and wear a mask during your visit. There were many hand sanitizer stations throughout the House. Some areas like the garden maze were closed.
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History of the Chatsworth Estate
The Chatsworth Estate has been the home of the Cavendish Family for 16 generations . It was purchased for £600 in 1549 by Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, (better known as Bess of Hardwick) and Sir William Cavendish.
In Elizabethan England, Bess of Hardwick was the most powerful woman after the Queen. She came from a modest background, but used her shrewd business sense to amass quite the fortune. Bess married four times, but it was with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that the Cavendish line that continues today was established.
They married in 1547 and then she persuaded him to sell the former monastic lands he had and move from Suffolk back to her home county of Derbyshire. They began to build the first house on the Chatsworth site in 1552. You can still see the Hunting Tower, built in the 1580s, on the hill above the House.
Bess’s fourth husband George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury was appointed to be the custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Queen Elizabeth I. Mary stayed as a prisoner at Chatsworth at various times between 1569 and 1584. The rooms on the east side of the house where she would have stayed have been totally redone but are still called the Queen of Scots Apartments.
Mary Queen of Scots was not the only famous guest at Chatsworth House. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens have stayed there. It was also mentioned in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, as one of the estates Elizabeth Bennet visits before arriving at Pemberley. In the 2005 film adaptation it represented Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s home. Many other tv shows and movies have been filmed at Chatsworth including the Crown, the Duchess (about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire), and the Wolfman.
What to See at Chatsworth House
Chatsworth is much more than just the house. The grounds are enormous and there are several attractions to see. Even with a full day, you might not be able to see everything. Let me tell you about the things that you won’t want to miss.
The Park is the area outside the gates of the house that reaches to the main road. It may look like a pristine natural area, but a lot of planning went into the design by Capability Brown. He was a master in his day, working on many other stately homes including Blenheim Palace and Alnwick Castle.
Some points of interest in the park to see include:
- River Derwent – This river runs through the park in front of the house. It was actually rerouted a bit by Capability Brown to have more curves. We saw a few people kayaking during our visit although technically I don’t think this is allowed.
- The Bridge – This picturesque bridge goes over the River Derwent. It’s a lovely place to stand to get a view of the house, but be mindful of the traffic as it is narrow.
- Queen Mary’s Bower – Originally built as a fishing platform, this is where Mary Queen of Scots would have her exercise when she was held captive here. I’m not sure what kind of exercise she would do. I pictured her sitting on the steps looking out over the landscape.
We did see a lot of sheep and their waste, so watch where you step. There is plenty of green space, so if you want to picnic, bring a blanket and enjoy. Alternatively, there were picnic tables in the grassy areas by the parking lot. We grabbed some sandwiches from the cafe by the entrance to the house.
Chatsworth House has 126 rooms, but most are closed to the public. The present (12th) Duke and Duchess of Devonshire live privately in their apartments while the house is open to the public. They do change the rooms that are on show from time to time, and when we went we did not get to see the Queen of Scots Apartments.
Still it was awe-inspiring to explore the house. Some of my favorite rooms were:
- The Painted Hall – This room was probably the most dramatic in the house. It is located where the Elizabethan Great Hall would have been. It gets its name from the huge 17th century paintings in the room depicting the life of Julius Caesar. My eyes were drawn to the elegant staircase. I was surprised to learn that this was installed in the room in 1912 as it looks much older. When we visited they had added a bright yellow railing that visitors could hold on to if needed.
- Great Dining Room – This room reminded me a bit of the dining room at Buckingham Palace with all the red, so it was interesting to learn that the room originally had a white and gold interior. The red wall hangings were put up in 1996 and the chandelier was added in 2004. The first formal dinner held here was for Princess Victoria (before she became Queen) and her mother. Today, it is still used for exclusive formal dinners for up to 40 people.
- Library – This would be a book lovers dream. There are over 17,000 books including some medieval illuminated manuscripts (like the Book of Kells), the scientific manuscripts of Henry Cavendish, and more. Unfortunately you don’t get to examine any of the priceless books close up, but the room is memorable for its dark wood and gold nonetheless.
- Sketch Gallery – The family took what was a series of small bedrooms and service rooms and turned it into a modern art gallery. There are hundreds of ceramic panels that create a series of abstract portraits based on the mitochondrial DNA of the 12th Duke and Duchess and their son Lord Burlington and his wife Lady Burlington.
- Sculpture Gallery – This room looks like one that would be found in one of the world’s top art museums. We were lucky to see a Henry Moore sculpture that was on loan on display.
It was fun to imagine what being a guest at Chatsworth House would have been like. I could picture myself staring out at the gardens through one of the huge windows. On a rainy day, you might find me reading in the library. I also thought about the food that would have been served in the dining room. Most of it probably would have been produced on the estate.
The thing that stood out to me the most was the artwork inside the house. It’s one of the largest private collections in Europe. I was impressed by the diversity. There were both modern and classical pieces, sculptures and paintings, and more.
The formal gardens were larger than many parks that I have been to! If you want to minimize your walking there is a buggy tour that you can catch for a small fee just outside the house.
We opted to walk around the gardens, but did not have time to see all of it. In fact, we saved seeing the cascade until the end of our visit without realizing they shut the water off a bit before closing.
Some of the highlights to see in the Gardens are:
- Broad Walk – Beech trees line this half-kilometer path forming a tunnel drawing your eyes to the urn memorializing the 6th Duke’s niece Sally Blanche who died very young.
- Flora’s Temple – We passed Flora’s Temple on the way out. The statue of Flora by Caius Gabriel Cibber made in 1694 is one of the few sculptures from the 1st Duke’s Gardens.
- Rock Garden – When you walk through this section of the garden, it feels like you’ve been transported to another place. It was built as a reminder of the 6th Duke’s visit to the Alps in the mid-19th century. The Wellington Rock with a waterfall is the tallest installation at 45 feet high.
- Maze – The maze is located inside the area where the Great Conservatory (designed by Sir Joseph Paxton who also did the Crystal Palace in London) once stood. It wasn’t added until 1962. Unfortunately, during our visit the Maze was closed due to Coronavirus.
- Canal Pond and Great Fountain – This is one of the best photo spots on the grounds. Stand at the far end of the pond gazing towards the house as the fountain sends water high into the sky.
- Cascade – The cascade is a series of small waterfalls originally completed in 1696. A few years later it was reconstructed to make the flight steeper and add the Cascade House.
- Willow Tree Fountain – This is a fountain made to look like a tree. The current fountain is from the early 19th century. Unfortunately, we missed this on our visit.
Again the artwork definitely stood out. There were several sculptures that appealed to me. Not only because of the individual piece of art but also because of the perfect placement. For example, there was a woman walking in the woods and a dog gazing over the water towards the house.
Farmyard and Playground
If you have kids, you will probably want to take them to the Farmyard and Adventure Playground at Chatsworth Estate. In the farmyard kids will see ponies and lambs and can take a trailer ride. Then, go in the secret tunnel to the playground where there is a giant rope park, climbing walls, a trampoline, huge slides, zip wire and swings.
You will need a ticket to go to the Farmyard and Playground.
Inside James Paine’s 18th century stable, you can have afternoon tea at the Flying Childers Restaurant or dine at the Cavendish. There is also the self-service Carriage House cafe and Stables Shop.
Is Chatsworth House accessible?
How to Get to Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House is located in the Peak District National Park about 4 miles outside Bakewell. The closest train station is Chesterfield, which is 10 miles away, so it’s probably best to drive. From London, it will take around three hours. Keep in mind, driving in the UK can be challenging. Some of the roads in the Peak District are narrow and winding.
If you prefer to take public transportation, your best option is to take the train to Sheffield and then take the 218 bus from the Sheffield interchange (across the street from the train station) which stops at Chatsworth House. Depending on the schedules, this would probably take at least three and half hours.
Check the train schedule and prices here.
Get more information about the 218 bus here.
Can You Visit Chatsworth House as a Day Trip from London?
I wouldn’t recommend visiting the Chatsworth House as a day trip from London. While it is possible to do a Chatsworth House day trip it would be exhausting. It would mean around six hours of total driving. There is a lot to see and you will want to have time to explore the grounds too.
If you want to visit Chatsworth, I recommend spending at least one night in the area. Don’t worry, you won’t be bored, there are plenty of other things to do in the Peak District. It has some of the best hiking in the country.
Where to Stay Near Chatsworth House
During our visit we stayed in Sheffield, which is about an hour away. Next time I go back to the area I think I would prefer to stay somewhere closer in the Peak District National Park.
You are not going to find any big brand hotel chains, the best options will be AirBnBs. It would have been nice to have a kitchen. Here are some that I have bookmarked for my next trip:
- Townhead Cottage, Eyam – It’s a one bed stone detached cottage dating back to 1640. Check it out here.
- Barn in Youlgreave – It’s a barn converted into a cosy studio with a lovely outdoor area. Check it out here.
- Cottage in Wensley – This quirky place used to be the village shop. Check it out here
- Luxury 2-Bedroom Cottage in Baslow – Complete with a hot tub! Check it out here.
How much does it cost to visit Chatsworth House?
It depends as there are several different ticket options. We chose the House & Gardens ticket which also includes parking that cost us £23 per adult. Prices are slightly higher during the Christmas season when the House is decorated.
You can also buy tickets for just the garden, the farmyard and playground, or parking. Get more information about the different tickets and prices here.
Note: Chatsworth House is not an English Heritage or National Trust property. It is run by the Chatsworth House Trust, which is also a charity.
Is Chatsworth House Worth Visiting?
I had pretty high expectations for my visit to Chatsworth House and I was not disappointed. The House was much bigger than I had anticipated and I wasn’t expecting to see so much modern art (which I loved!).
The one disappointing thing was the lack of signs to explain more about the rooms in the House. There were basically none. When we entered, they offered to sell a guide book for an additional fee, but thinking about the money we spent on admission I passed. We ended up buying the guide book at the gift shop at the end of our visit, so I could learn more about what we saw.
I wouldn’t recommend spending the money for young children to go inside the house. It’s not designed for them with all the antiques and priceless artwork. I do think they would enjoy the gardens and farm.
Have you been to Chatsworth House?
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